Choking First Aid for Puppies

Dogs Choking and the Heimlich Maneuver

Shar-Pei Pitbull Puppy Laying on Couch
Lisa Van Dyke / Getty Images

Puppies are notorious for grabbing, tasting and chewing anything within reach and choking can be a hazard. Swallowed objects that are small enough may not pose any problems if they pass out of the body, but prove dangerous if they cause an intestinal blockage. But when the object lodges in the throat or windpipe, puppies can become frantic as they try to dislodge it with gagging, retching, and coughing.

They might paw their mouths or rub their face against the ground.

If the object blocks the airway, choking can kill your puppy. Even a partial blockage could cause fainting. For example, a small toy that seals the throat like a cork in a bottle can cause suffocation, and you’ll need first aid to save your puppy’s life. If you hear wheezing, air is getting through—but only try these tips a couple of times. Don't delay if unsuccessful, speed to the ER for help!

First Aid for Choking

  • Restrain your puppy. You can’t help him if he’s flailing around, and he may bite you out of panic when you try to look inside his mouth.
  • Stick out his tongue. Use a cloth to grip, and pull the tongue out of the way. That may actually help dislodge the object. If the conscious pup will allow it, use tongs or needle-nose pliers to try and grasp the object.
  • Cut the stick. Sometimes chewed sticks or pieces of bone lodge across the roof of the mouth, and cutting the object in the middle with something like bolt cutters releases the pressure so it can be removed.
  • Compress the chest. Gentle compressions on both sides of the pup’s chest (while he’s standing) may force enough air out to dislodge the object.
  • Use the standing Heimlich. Puppies are shaped differently than people but the same principle applies. For a small pup, hold his back against your stomach (head up, paws down), and find the soft hollow under the ribs. Your closed fist should fit into this spot. Pull up and in two or three times, toward your own tummy, using a thrusting motion.
  • Use the kneeling Heimlich. If your pup is too big to lift, place him on his side and kneel behind his back. Place your closed fist in the hollow under his rib cage, and push upward and inward sharply, in the direction of the pup’s head and your knees. Remove the object once it jars loose. If it doesn’t, you can continue the Heimlich in the back seat of your car while somebody drives you to the vet clinic for help.
  • Turn on the AC. Since puppies stay cool by panting ​when they choke on something and can’t breathe they also have trouble staying cool. So during the car ride to the vet be sure you have the air conditioning blowing.
  • In most cases, getting rid of the choking obstruction allows the pup to begin breathing again on his own. But if he doesn’t, you may need to give him rescue breathing to jump-start the respiration.

After Care

Once the foreign object that choked your puppy is removed, there may be damage to the inside of the mouth or throat. That can take many days to heal, and can also make it hard or painful for the puppy to eat his regular food. Making the normal diet soft by running it through the blender with warm water may help. You can also refer to this article for additional tips for when your puppy won’t eat.

It’s a good idea to have your puppy checked out by the veterinarian, even if your first aid manages to get rid of the choking hazard. Some puppies bite their own tongue or the inside of the mouth, while the foreign object could have left abrasions. These injuries might need you to give your puppy medication to prevent infection.

It’s best to puppy proof your dog’s toys and supervise playtime outside. Anything that doesn’t move faster than he does could be a choking hazard waiting to happen!